Closing out the 23rd JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience was “SHE POEMS,” by 2021 Pina Bausch Fellow Aïda Colmenero Dïaz. Of the 20 films she produced since the project’s inception in 2013, the seven chosen for viewing here (according to her website), “question the stereotypes that the western collective imaginary imposes on Black African female bodies…”
Each of these films draws inspiration from women poets and, except for one, a solo performer. Opening with “Exodus,” Khadijah Nasibu undulates in her crimson dress amidst a marketplace filled with unsuspecting spectators. Intermittently, she breaks from her trance-like state to hug a passerby as a rooster crows in the distance. “Fear,” set in a vast field filled with spherical bales of hay, features Phindile Ntombizodwa Elsie Sibiya throwing herself to the ground and dancing atop the golden straw as if she were commandeering a horse. This display is made all the more effectual by haunting camera angles and a driving percussive score.
Whereas “Fear” intimates horses, “Life” jumps in with both feet. Through smartly edited snapshots, the dancer Phulusho Khwiyane seems to personify livestock as she makes her way through a cattle alley jumping and pushing desperately trying to break free of the steel bars encasing her. These structures could be metaphorically indicative of societal constraints or quite literally prison bars. For this writer, the latter calls to mind the ongoing crisis of the mass incarceration of people of color.
In Dïaz’s body of work common threads woven throughout include intersectionality, improvisation, use of non-traditional spaces, minimal soundscores and the fusion of choreography with environment. She intentionally highlights women of Africa, centering their voices in hopes of eliciting a more favorable view of the continent. She succeeds. The richness of a land comes from the people who inhabit it. Whether it is the women mentioned above, Estelle Foli dancing atop a rusted out car in “Abyss,” or Happiness Majige basking in rays of sunlight amidst abandoned buildings in “Lifetime Dust VII,” their mere presence beautifies and fortifies each space they occupy.
“SHE POEMS” was a befitting end to the JOMBA! festival’s theme of crossing borders. Besides splitting time between her native Spain and Africa, Dïaz’s projects stretch into Morocco, Nigeria, Tanzania, Senegal, Madagascar, Gabon, Cape Verde Islands and Ghana among others. In a world besieged by atrocities on women it is encouraging to know an artist such as Dïaz is on the forefront sharing platforms and shining a light.
The JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience took place from Aug. 24-Sept. 5. Performances will be accessible on the JOMBA! website until the end of September. For more information and to access the performances, visit jomba.ukzn.ac.za.
2021 Critical Dance Writing Fellow Catherine Meredith’s extensive career as a performing artist, dance educator and choreographer has garnered her critical acclaim both nationally and internationally. She performed in works by Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, Talley Beatty, Paul Taylor, David Rousseve, Shapiro & Smith, David Parsons, Hernando Cortez, Beth Corning, Heinz Poll, Martha Graham, Ulysses Dove and Dianne McIntyre. Her choreographic work has been commissioned by numerous companies, colleges and universities and presented at The Kennedy Center (D.C.), AVAYAVA Festival (India), American Dance Guild (NYC), Dance St. Louis, The Ashley Bouder Project, Playhouse Square, and New Dance Partners Project in Kansas for Störling Dance Theater. For ten years, Ms. Meredith was the resident choreographer for the Dancing Wheels Company, the nation’s first physically integrated professional dance company. She holds an MFA from Hollins University and is an Assistant Professor of Dance at Kent State University.